Democrats have gotten into the habit of running against George W. Bush.  They won majorities in both houses of Congress in 2006 by running against Bush, and won a presidential election in 2008 with that strategy despite the fact that Bush wasn’t able to run.  Barack Obama has spent most of the past year blaming his own ineffectiveness on his predecessor.  So when the special election to replace Ted Kennedy got unexpectedly tight, Democrats figured that a healthy dose of Boogeyman Bush would send Democrats flocking to the polls.  Instead, it demonstrated the emptiness of Democratic arguments for leadership:

After three consecutive losses in statewide races, some top Democrats are questioning a tactic aimed at boosting the party’s candidates in each of those contests: Bush-bashing. …

Yet when Democratic nominees for governor in Virginia and New Jersey and for Senate in Massachusetts sought to tie their GOP opponents to the still-unpopular former president, the strategy didn’t resonate. Voters were more focused on the current administration or local political issues — and the onetime Democratic magic formula seemed yesterday’s news.

“Voters are pretty tired of the blame game,” said longtime Democratic strategist Steve Hildebrand, a top aide on Obama’s presidential campaign. “What a stupid strategy that was.” …

Another well-respected Democratic consultant put it simply: “Need a new game plan!”

Have they learned a lesson?  Well, perhaps partly.  Democratic leadership now thinks that they can play the Bush card effectively in races where there is actually a connection to Bush — for instance in Ohio, where former Bush budget director Rob Portman will run for the Senate.  The only problem there is that Ohioans know Portman worked for Bush, and so far, he’s still beating both leading Democrats in polls of likely voters.  Democrats think they can play the Bush card on Roy Blunt for being the Republican whip during the Bush years, but the Missouri voters know Blunt even better than Ohioans know Portman, and Blunt has moved ahead of Robin Carnahan in polling as well.

While the Democrats desperately keep hold of their favorite cartoon villain, who is as relevant to American politics now as Bill Clinton, Republicans have Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama — and that’s going to be much more likely to resonate with voters in 2010.  The midterms will be a referendum on both politicians and the radical direction of their leadership and agenda.  Which will voters care about more — a former President who has no impact on the political agenda of the federal government, or the two people who attempted to conduct a takeover of 1/6th of the American economy while ignoring the loss of 3.4 million jobs?

The irony of this sudden and partial epiphany is that it comes as the Democrats (and perhaps the White House) launched a wave of Ellie Light astroturfing that features — you guessed it — a blame-Bush theme.  They have armies of apparently brain-dead minions sending duplicate “letters to the editor” to newspapers around the country in order to spread their propaganda, and now they look both foolish and desperate after being so uncreatively obvious about it.  If Democrats change strategy now, it will be their Ellie Light astroturfers who will be hardest hit … except, perhaps, their candidates.